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PAHO/WHO Honors Efforts to Advance Women’s Health Equality in Latin America

Washington, D.C., March 9, 2012 (PAHO/WHO) — Four Latin American initiatives that promote gender equality in health were honored as “best practices”  by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) at a special event marking International Women’s Day on March 9.

The four projects—from Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay—were the finalists in the fifth annual “Best Practices that Incorporate the Perspective of Gender Equality in Health” contest, organized by PAHO/WHO, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF).

This year’s contest highlighted initiatives that seek to transform men’s and women’s attitudes as a means of advancing gender equality, honoring two categories of projects: “gender and health” and “gender and safe motherhood.”

“To promote transformation, which is going on in all the countries and communities, it’s essential to identify, recognize and disseminate these transformations,” said PAHO Assistant Director Dr. Socorro Gross. “Through these excellent initiatives and the people who receive these awards, we celebrate the efforts of all those who contribute and fight to advance health equity in the Americas.”

The winning initiative from Bolivia was “Accountability to Advance Town Hall Meetings on Women’s Health,” sponsored by the Office of Environment of the Bolivian Mining Corporation (DIMA-COMIBOL). It promotes women’s participation in health policy and programming in Colquechaca, Potosí, a mining town where women’s health and social indicators are among the country’s worst. The project provides training and empowers women to hold authorities accountable for their use of municipal funds and for ensuring the quality of municipal health services. Since 2009, more than 100 women have participated in each town hall meeting, successfully advocating for improvements in health facilities and services as well as increased prevention activities. The initiative has been replicated in two other mining towns of Potosí.

“We achieved changes in municipal management, in women’s behaviors, and in health indicators,” said DIMA-COMIBOL’s Maria Jacqueline Duran Cossio, who accepted the award. “And we learned that women’s health cannot advance unless they are part of the process.”

The winning initiative from Colombia was “Safe motherhood in the Pacific Cauca region,” which seeks to reduce maternal and infant mortality in communities suffering from poverty, displacement and social exclusion. It provides training and tools for midwives and community health aides to help pregnant women, their families and community leaders identify and respond to risk factors and warning signs for maternal-infant health, while promoting protective behaviors and better access to health services. The project uses a model of comprehensive care that emphasizes cultural sensitivity and integrates both traditional and Western medicine. It is being carried out by provincial and municipal health authorities, two public hospitals, women’s organizations, a local midwives’ group, and the PAHO/WHO country office in Colombia, with support from USAID.

“This award provides us with a motor for continuity,” said Maria Cristina Lesmes Duque, of PAHO/WHO’s country office in Colombia. “It will move us forward in our work with and for the communities.”

The winning project from Uruguay addresses the issue of unsafe abortion and is sponsored by the Health Initiatives Civic Association of Montevideo. It promotes a model of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services that includes professional counseling for women with unwanted pregnancies and comprehensive post-abortion care. The effort has helped to reduce maternal mortality in Uruguay and to put the country on track to meet MDG-5.

“Even where abortion is illegal, there is much we can do for women,” said Leonel Briozzo Colombo, former Director of the initiative and currently Undersecretary of Health of Uruguay. “Women with unwanted pregnancies are still citizens, and they have the right to comprehensive care.”

The winner from Peru was “Women’s and men’s participation in community surveillance of health in the Apurimac River Valley,” supported by Management Sciences for Health. The initiative works to increase women’s and men’s participation in community health efforts. It has created and trained members of special neighborhood health committees and has successfully engaged men in nontraditional activities such as promotion of family planning, maternal health, and good child-care practices. Positive outcomes have included higher child vaccination rates, improved child nutrition, and greater awareness of family planning methods.

“Our community has changed, as we are living better now,” said Aguida Curo Vicaña, president of the Tutumbaru neighborhood committee, in accepting the award. “Improving health is possible, but only together—men and women—can we achieve it.”

In a recorded message, PAHO Director Mirta Roses—the first woman to head PAHO—said, “We are celebrating these winning initiatives from Bolivia, Colombia, Peru and Uruguay, whose representatives are with us. At the same time, we celebrate the women from these winning communities and their contributions to improving the health of their families and communities.”

Maria Celina Conte, of the Inter-American Commission of Women, said it was important to identify and analyze best practices to develop methodologies that are effective and replicable. She added, “Best practices also reaffirm the evidence that sustainable human development is a utopia without gender equality and recognition of and respect for women’s rights.”

The “Best Practices that Incorporate the Perspective of Gender Equality in Health” contest was established by PAHO in 2008 to recognize and promote initiatives that incorporate a gender perspective and contribute to efficiency, access and equity in policies, programs and health services. This year’s contest received nearly 100 applications from 19 countries.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).


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